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Sedgwick County Health Officer amends emergency order, exempts churches from gathering limit

Published: Jul. 8, 2020 at 2:47 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - (Update Thursday, July 9, 2020) Sedgwick County Health Officer Dr. Garold Minns on Thursday signed a revised Emergency Public Health order, replacing the order he signed Wednesday.

The public mask requirement and Sedgwick County’s placement of Phase 3 in the governor’s reopening plan remain in effect. The revision to the original order signed Wednesday clarifies that religious institutions are exempted from the 45-person gathering limit in place with Phase 3 of the reopening plan.

Churches “are encouraged to maintain social distancing as much (as) is feasible,” the county said.

Rev. Dr. T. La Mont Holder, with the Calvary Baptist Church, says there still needs to be precautions in place.

“I think it behooves everyone to proceed with caution and lets do what’s best for everyone ,” said Rev. Holder.

He says while he can have more than 45 people inside, he’s going to stick to that number for now.

James Gillespie is the pastor of Andover Baptist Church.

“I think that it’s wonderful. I’m glad they did that. At the same time, I think we should be reasonable,” said Gillespie.

While Gillespie says his church is smaller, he has advice for other pastors with larger congregations.

“Do the right thing, what would Christ do? he obviously would not want to hurt people or put anyone in jeopardy,” said Gillespie.

Thursday, the county also clarified rules around athletes.

“Additional language clarifying athletes and individuals participating in strenuous exercising are exempt from the mask order as long as the activity allows them to social distance from others,” the county said.

The county said there are also some exceptions to rule in place as not everyone is able to safely wear a mask.

You can read the revised order in its entirety, clarity on the mask requirement, and every exemption from the order here: Emergency Public Health Order of the Sedgwick County Local Health Officer.

Sedgwick County's mask exemptions also include religious institutions.
Sedgwick County's mask exemptions also include religious institutions.(KWCH 12)

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Sedgwick County Health Officer Garold Minns announced Wednesday that he would sign an emergency order to require face masks in Sedgwick County in public settings where social distancing isn’t possible.

Minns said after looking at the number of cases increasing in the county, as well as hospitalizations increasing, he thought that face masks should be required. The health director also ordered Sedgwick County to adopt Phase Three of the governor’s reopening plan.

Phase Three limits mass gatherings to 45 people. All venues and establishments can still operate under this phase.

The Sedgwick County Commission voted last week not to mandate face masks in public.

Minns’ order will be similar to the governor’s order that went into effect last Friday. The order in Sedgwick County will go into effect at 12:01 a.m. July 10 and last through Aug. 9.

Wednesday, Sedgwick County Manager Tom Stolz joined Michael Schwanke on “Right Now,” to further discuss Dr. Minns’ order and what it means for people who live and work in the county.

Also Wednesday, Eyewitness News reached out to Sedgwick County commissioners for reaction to Minns’ order. Commissioner Lacey Cruse who was outspoken in favor of mandating masks in the county said she’s in favor of the health officer’s order.

“I am in full support of the order Dr. Minns, our local health officer, put out today regarding the wearing of masks in public as well the gathering order,” Cruse said. “As I have stated before, a strong recommendation as we have seen has not produced results that have changed our growing COVID-19 numbers. I believe this will slow the spread of this virus and is something simple and easily found in our toolbox that we can do for one another to help our community.”

Commissioner David Dennis said he does not support trying to overturn Dr. Minns’ order.

Commissioner Pete Meitzner also voiced support for following the health officer’s order. Meitzner noted an upward trend in hospitalizations and said along with being helpful on the health and safety front, people wearing masks in Sedgwick County can help keep economic-reopening plans moving forward and more comfortably clear students to return to classrooms in the fall.

Dr. Minns said he’s taking this action because it’s what he can do to bring down COVID-19 infection rates in Sedgwick County. In the last two weeks, he said there have been 600 new COVID-19 cases diagnosed, which have been linked to community spread. He said hospital numbers have also increased.

“From Ad Astra (the governor’s reopening plan) we weren’t supported to go from stage to stage until we saw a significant decline, and we are going in the opposite direction now,” Dr. Minns said. “I’m fearful that if we don’t get this stabilized and hopefully back on decline, we are going to be facing what some of the other states have met with hospitals being overwhelmed, a lot of unnecessary hospitalizations and deaths, unnecessary in the sense if we just got this under control, these people wouldn’t be getting sick.”

Sedgwick County when to wear a mask
Sedgwick County when to wear a mask(KWCH 12)

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